In Love Actually the aged rock star played by Bill Nighy realises that, over the years, he has fallen in love with his manager (in a totally platonic way). In some ways, I am the fat old manager to Hugh's rock star, but like Bill Nighy's character I was surprised by a relationship that crept up on me.
I spent eight years living with my sisters, from their birth until I moved to boarding school at thirteen. At the grand-old age of 25 I moved into Tim's room and became a member of The Bealey Ave Massive. I was only meant to be there a short while, paying part of Tim's rent while he was away in the United States. But then I took over Claire's room when she returned to Jersey for a holiday, and Victoria's room when she moved out. And in V's room I have stayed, upstairs from Hugh, for six years.
Tim knew Hugh from Masterton. How they knew each other I do not really know, but I first met Hugh when he lived in The Gecko House near the Bealey Ave end of Durham Street. When the flat beneath Tim's became available, Tim and Claire suggested that Hugh and his flatmates move in, as their abode faced demolition. So they moved. Then I moved in upstairs, and Hugh and I became neighbours.
Hugh was not a happy person when I first new him. Not miserable, but not a person happy with either himself or his place in the world. He was working in retail — which tends to be a dead-end job in New Zealand, no matter how well you do it; if Hugh does something he likes to do it well, so retail was not the right career for him.
About four years ago Clare convinced Hugh to accompany her on short massage course. Hugh turned out to be very good at massage. Hugh then took a full year massage therapy course. I recall his kitchen table covered in books on anatomy and therapy techniques. Around this time he took up a job at the local booze barn. He was still working in retail, which did not impress him, but now Hugh could afford good booze.
When Hugh does something, he likes to do it well, and drinking is no exception. He has an excellent palette, and thanks to the staff discount at the booze barn he could finally afford drink that suited it. I like to think I was helping, when Hugh came upstairs with wine to try. Or sitting on the back lawn sampling Champagne. Or mixing cocktails using Tanqueray. But mostly we were two friends hanging out and chatting about booze, music, the weather, films, TV and girls. Over the years Hugh managed to drink enough booze, and train his palette well enough, that he is now recognised as a wine critic (yes, that Hugh).
Hugh started to… fit in the world; Hugh became happy. He seemed to love his job as a massage therapist, and had a hobby that he was good at and recognised as doing very well. But Hugh cannot be truly happy unless he is doing his best, so he made the decision to move to Auckland to train as a chiropractor.
Six years after I moved in I found myself helping Hugh move out. The garden shed was full of junk from our former flatmates, and as the last of the old guard it had fallen to Hugh and myself to clean things up. Four trailer loads of dusty, broken, faded memories we took to the tip. Then Hugh was no longer my neighbour.